At what time ... There are the words and the meaning they have!
There is also the weight of history and the experience of those who risk to want to understand!
Our contemporary Masonic approach is often honoured to retain the use of certain words, but who still knows what they meant?
Some may be tempted to give another meaning to these words by ignoring the continuity of the historical and cultural meaning, and perhaps they are right even if it is sometimes confusing to play with nonsense!
Others would like to rediscover the inspirational force of the 18th century Freemasonry movement; those who would like to preserve the weight of words, believing that their use is the guarantee of renewal.
Still others would be eager to recreate a more coherent vocabulary and more authentically in line with a contemporary initiatory approach!
Couldn't we agree that history is behind us and that our practice today is necessarily different.
We use words full of history and meaning that are sometimes difficult to adhere to, but at least they should be understood in their original meaning.
The purpose of this plate is to present to you what seems to be the original meaning of the symbolism of Midday and Midnight in Masonic rituals. It is a theme that is often approached only from the angle of similarities.
Midday, Midnight, are poetic words, words related to a time, to this time which determines the duration of our work!
We find these words in the oldest rituals of the 18th century inserted in these requests and answers that we still use today as it was the case at the opening of our work; here is a version that dates from 1747:
Request of the Venerable: F.-. lst Supervisor, at what time is the opening of the apprentice mason's lodge?
Answer : Very Venerable, at full midday.
D: Venerable 2nd Proctor, what time is it?
A: Very Venerable, it is full noon.
D: Since it is full noon and it is at this time that the opening of the apprentice's lodge is done and our work begins, Venerable Brother 1st Supervisor, tell Brother 2nd Supervisor that I pass through his column, the word, pass, sign and touch and their meanings and you Brothers pass the same through your Column to ensure that we are all here Brothers.
D: Ven.-. F.-. First Overseer, at what time should we close our work?
A: At midnight.
D: What time is it?
D: Since it's midnight and that's when we finish our work, F.-. first and second Supervisor, invite the Brothers to help me close the works, etc.
Who among us hasn't wondered about the weirdness of these ritual references?
How can we understand that men of action like the fellow builders whom we honour and whom we claim to honour, can be recognised in a working time that begins at noon and ends at midnight?
Who can believe that these work schedules are realistic, operational and recommendable?
There's got to be a trick!
The ritual gives a clue by evoking the sun at its zenith, but this is insufficient to justify the permanence with which texts and practices have referred and continue to refer to this division of time!
One also evokes the Sun and the Moon, the two Saint John's, but it seems to me that a lack of coherence remained too obvious for me to be satisfied with so many inaccuracies!
How to justify this incongruity and distortion with the common sense of simple and precise words applied to an object that is itself well identified!
If we take up the old companion texts and in particular the Regius , the operative freemasons were essentially based on three principles:
-excellence in the practice of the trade
-excellence in the respect of a moral rigour
-obedience in the social organization of medieval society impregnated by the christic reference
Men of duty and work, how could they recognize themselves in a working time so contradictory with the demands of a profession?
Of course, these are symbols; symbolic time and symbolic work are not necessarily found in the common meaning of the same words!
What work is it about? And how does it relate to initiation?
Is it individual symbolic work on oneself? Is it rather a collective symbolic work?
Why so many opacities in relation to other developments?
The answer to these questions cannot be understood if one forgets to put the Masonic rituals back into their historical logic.
Three great logics permeate the history of Freemasonry:
-Initiation understood as a process of accompaniment of Jesus Christ...
-initiation understood as a competitive religious syncretism to the christic event
-and initiation understood as a desacralized societal approach
By analyzing the various rituals and the theories they have given rise to, it is possible to link them more or less to one of these three logics.
This coexistence of logics through different rituals and above all the different interpretations of identical symbolic elements could at one time constitute a wealth of attractive inspiration for the most brilliant elements of the currents of thought.
The historical evolution of thought, the organizational incapacity of the great currents of Freemasonry and the adaptation of the religious powers to the new conditions of expression of the fundamentals explain essentially that Freemasonry has lost all the power of inspiration that was its in the 18th century to appear today only under the aspect of an occupational social activity.
The symbolic interpretation obliges us to refer to the two main logics that stand out in their reappropriation of the Christic initiation.
To come back to the subject of this work, it is clear that behind the words of the ritual that set the beginning and end of the lodge work at noon and midnight, another time space is emerging! What is this time space to which Midday and Midnight could refer!
As always in Freemasonry, the understanding of symbols must first be sought in the Bible!
The first element of answer that comes to mind is found in this volume of the sacred law that was the Bible for all the lodges of Saint John and in particular the Gospel according to Saint John.
In the lodges, the Bible was open at the prologue level; what was written?
1 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 - It was in the beginning with God.
3 - All things were made by him, and nothing that was made was made without him.
4 - In her was life, and life was the light of men.
5 - The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not received it.
6- And there was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7- He came to be a witness, to bear witness to the light, that all may believe in him.
8- He was not the light, but appeared to bear witness to the light.
9 - This light was the true light, which when it came into the world enlightens every man.
10 - It was in the world, and the world was made by it, and the world did not know it.
11. It came to his own, and his own did not receive it.
12 But to all who received her, to those who believe in her name, she gave power to become children of God, who were born.
13-Not of blood, WHERE of the will of the flesh, WHERE of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; and we have seen his glory, the glory as the glory of the only-begotten Son from the Father.
15 And John gave witness to him and said, This is he of whom I said, He who comes after me has gone before me, for he was before me.
16 - And we have all received of his fulness, and grace for grace;
17 - For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
18 No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, is he who made him known.
19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you?
20 - And he said, and denied it not, that he was not the Christ.
21 And they asked him, What are you, Elijah? And he said, I am not. Are you the prophet? And he said, Nay.
22 And they said unto him: Who art thou? that we may give an answer to those who sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
23 - And he said, I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as Isaiah the prophet said.
24 - Those who were sent were Pharisees.
25 - And they asked him again, saying, Why baptize then, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?
26 - And John said to them, I baptize with water, but among you there is one whom you do not know, who is coming after me;
27 - I am not worthy to untie the strap of his shoes.
28 - These things took place in Bethany, beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 - The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and he said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
30 - This is he of whom I said, After me comes a man who was before me, for he was before me.
31 - I did not know him, but that he might be made manifest to Israel, whom I have come to baptize with water.
32 And John gave witness, and said, I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove and coming to rest on him.
33 I did not know him, but he who sent me to give baptism with water said to me, He on whom you will see the Spirit coming down and stopping is the one who gives baptism in the Holy Spirit.
34 - And I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God,
35 - The next day John was still there with two of his disciples;
36 And looking at Jesus passing by, he said, Behold, the Lamb of God.
37 And when the two disciples heard him say these words, they followed Jesus,
38 - And Jesus turned round, and seeing that they were following him, he said to them, "What are you looking for? They said to him, Rabbi (which means Master), where are you staying?
39 And he said to them, Come, and see. They went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, about the tenth hour,
40 - Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who had heard John's words and followed Jesus,
41 - And it was he who first met his brother Simon, and said to him, We have found the Messiah (which means Christ).
42 And he brought him to Jesus, and Jesus looking at him said, Thou art Simon, son of Jonah: thou shalt be called Cephas (which means Peter),
43 - The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he met Philip, and said to him, Follow me. 44 - Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter,
45 Philip met Nathanael, and said to him, We have found him of whom Moses had written in the law, and of whom the prophets had said, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
46 Nathanael said to him, Can anything good come from Nazareth? Philip answered him, "Come and see. 47 - Jesus saw
A little further on, it is written that Jesus spoke to the Jews to tell them:"I am the light of the world... Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
And John said : He spoke these words while he was teaching in the Temple on the Treasury side. And no one stopped him, because his hour had not yet come.
A little further on, retracing the process of Pilate's condemnation of Jesus, John writes:
Pilate therefore sought to release him, but the Jews began to cry out, "If you release him, you are no friend of the emperor. Anyone who makes himself king opposes the emperor.
13 - When Pilate heard these words, he took Jesus outside and made him sit on a platform at the place called the Paving (in Hebrew, Gabbatha).
14 - It was on a Friday, the day before the Passover, about noon. Pilate said to the Jews, "Behold your king".
15 - Then they cried out, "Death! Death! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your king?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor. "
16 - Then he handed Jesus over to them to be crucified, and they took him. »
On reading this text, one now understands that Noon symbolizes the hour of the beginning of the essential of the Christic process, that is to say, the beginning of the crucifixion.
In a certain way, the Masonic initiation wants to be a reappropriation of the final phase of the obligatory journey of Jesus Christ towards the Light; this reappropriation is done through the symbolic language theoretically only understandable by the initiates. The intelligence of Masonic texts using the symbolic content of words allows uncultured beings to believe that they have understood something when the essential escapes them. The Masonic initiation in its initial concept is not decreed: it is lived. The formalization of Masonic institutions by instituting an administrative process has completely distorted the specificity and originality of the initiatory journey.
But what about Midnight?
Biblical tradition conveys the belief that hope is founded on the Lord whose radiance is comparable to that of the sun. In the Bible, the night, a time of darkness, often has a negative connotation: it is a time of trial. But the night also reveals itself to be a privileged time of hope. The night watchman knows with certainty that darkness will give way to light. That is why night is a time when important events in salvation history are played out.
The first great act of salvation at night was the flight of the chosen people out of Egypt.
During Moses' negotiations with Pharaoh, Yahweh brings darkness that will reign for three days (Ex 10:21-23). For the Egyptians, this prolonged night is a real curse, all the more so because for the Israelites, the light continues to shine! But, paradoxically, it is in the heart of the night that the people of Israel will find freedom. Three times the Exodus account mentions that Yahweh destroys the firstborn "in the middle of the night" (11:4; 12:12,29). As a result, Moses and his people were able to leave Egypt. The first Passover, the feast par excellence of liberation, was celebrated at night.
The night is thus perceived as the moment of divine judgment. The righteous will get away with it, the unbelievers will perish. It is in this spirit that Zephaniah describes the Day of Yahweh, which is expected to be the ultimate deliverance: "A day of wrath, that day! a day of distress and tribulation, a day of desolation and devastation, a day of darkness and dark clouds, a day of clouds and darkness. "(1,15) But the faithful keep hope in the LORD and see the day dawn (Isaiah 9,1).
In the New Testament, the night occupies a very special place. The institution of the Eucharist takes place "on the very night that he (Jesus) was betrayed" (1 Cor 11:23). In the Gospel according to Saint Luke, Jesus associates the hour of his arrest with the evil powers: "I was with you in the Temple every day, and you did not arrest me. But now it is your hour; it is the dominion of darkness. "All this, however, will lead to the victory of the light. The Angel of the Lord, seated on the rolled stone of the empty tomb, is wearing a bright, snow-white garment (Mt 28:3).
Christians no longer have to fear the night, since the light of Easter shines unceasingly. Like the people of Israel leaving Egypt, the disciples, after the resurrection, are released from their prison in the middle of the night (Acts 5:19). The same thing happens to Peter (Acts 12,6-7). When Paul meets Christ (Acts 9,1-19), he is blinded and remains in the night for three days. As a result, the light of the Saviour will shine for him (Eph 5:8-14).
Everything happens as if the essential of the initiate's life was contained between these two times: from noon, the beginning of the resurrection process, to Midnight, the end of the initial time and the celebration of the obtaining of eternal life!
By placing their field of work and reflection in this period of Jesus' life, and moreover in a place, the Temple of Solomon, dedicated to GADLU, the designers of the Masonic approach deliberately placed the Freemasonic initiate in the process that would lead him to live the mystery of the resurrection.
The more or less fanciful interpretation of the symbolic language has allowed for less targeted interpretations, acceptable to brothers affiliated to currents of thought that could challenge Jesus in his role as first initiate conferred on him by the Bible; whether they are Jews, Orthodox, Protestants, agnostics, theosophists and even unbelievers, the brothers accept the reference to Midday and Midnight by interpreting it in their own way, but it seems to me that the deep meaning is indeed the one I have presented to you.
This understanding does not only concern the symbolic content of the beginning and the end of the work, because it allows us to understand more globally the specificity of the Masonic inspiration in the work of the stonemasons of our cathedrals and also the Vatican's fierce and irreducible opposition to any rapprochement with Freemasonry.
All in all, at the end of this study of the symbolic content of the beginning and end of Masonic work through the use of Midday and Midnight, it is possible to say that all the originality of the Masonic imagination rests on three axioms:
-Freemasonry wants to be an initiatory organization
-Masonic rituals propose an initiatory work centred on the excellence and perfection of the initiates.
-the initiatory objective of the Masonic approach aims at the resurrection of the initiate in the continuity of the Christic experience!
It is clear that for a certain number of us, this Masonic imaginary no longer corresponds to what could be a requirement of modern thought and that our duty could be to conceptualize a symbolic content that would be integrated into a contemporary Masonic imaginary capable of giving the Masonic approach greater coherence with our knowledge.